Monday, November 26, 2012

Writing about Bullying and Everything Else

My son Chris had ACL reconstruction and a meniscal repair last week and it made me cranky.

There were the circumstances of his injury, a fight he started but got by far the worst of when other kids jumped in and pummeled him.  There was the convincing him to go through with the surgery now that he's eighteen and gives his own medical consent--he preferred to hobble through rather than face the risks of anesthesia and the difficulty of rehabbing the knee--until it really started to hurt after a few months.  There was the getting to the hospital on their timetable when Chris far prefers to keep his own and let the world wait.  There was the interminable wait for hours of parent panic in a room filled with other equally anxious folk.  The getting him home from the outpatient surgery when he refused to fully wake and yet needed to learn crutches and tolerate a knee immobilizer.  Then the arguments, over the locked-up xbox that he wanted to spend hours on shooting people, over when he could put weight on the leg, over whether he could use crutches to go up and down the stairs, and whether other kids were allowed in the living room if their every move, every word, every breath annoyed him.  And then there was the pain, the ice, the intolerance for the meds, the inability to sleep for two nights, and the addition of another ten days at home together when we struggle to get along just on weekends.  Of course, as you know, all this was many times worse for him.  

So, I chose not to write about it in the midst of both our misery.  

On the other side of it I can say this:  he handled a tough situation beautifully and has been brave and strong and relatively uncomplaining.  I'm proud of him, and I handled myself fine.  I'm thankful it all turned out well. 

And therein lies the beauty of perspective.  

What you're in the middle of today, that looks terribly difficult when it's before you, becomes just a small speed bump in your rear view mirror.  

On Thanksgiving we all try to take this message to heart, thinking back over the year just past and being grateful for all we've earned and been given.

I usually start and finish with my family all being safe and around the table.  Minimal standards, but over time I've boiled by gratitude down to its essence--all being present and accounted for.  If I had to add to it, I'd say being grateful for power and heat and food would be next.  Public education. Health insurance.   This year I might have added gratitude for the few moments during the meal when my granddaughter wasn't wailing.  It was a rough one for her.

If you asked my family, they'd say I should be grateful for their patience with my writing time.  I am grateful, to my husband especially, but not specifically for "letting" me write, because that often doesn't feel optional to me.  More for appreciating who I am, and letting me do what I feel the need to do.  That's love and I'm beyond grateful for it.  My kids?  They're not that patient.

I've always spent time writing at home--homework assignments and journals, letters and term papers, psych evals and newsletters and blogs.  I wrote for school until my thirtieth birthday, then for work until my forty-fifth and then, when I left a job I had that required a lot of writing, I began to write for myself.

Funny how over the last three years, as I began to write fiction in bursts and then in steady, daily labor, struggling to improve, to tell the stories in my head with more skill, it morphed into something else--no longer for school, or work, or myself, but for its own sake.  Like moving your body, or being funny or raising kids or being married--its own, all-encompassing effort, something you do because you live and this is one of the things that living people do.  They try to put life into words, into offspring, into relationships, and into...perspective.

From any perspective, living with a writer during November, if they are one who participates in NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month), is a chore.  This is my second year  and writers who have tackled the set goal of 50,000 words written in November (about 200 pages of a book) are advised, repeatedly, to ignore the laundry, lock their study doors, feed the kids cereal and ignore all but emergency requests from anyone for assistance on anything.  There are, literally, hundreds of articles on how to write at home in the midst of a maelstrom.  They all hit these same themes--you need to do this, you can do this, but you can't do it and everything else.  One NaNo logline is "The world is waiting for your novel."  If you internalize this message, as I have, then you do what you have to in order to write everyday, even when you lose power, have no heat, kids are fighting and you need to sleep.  Because everyday you're still moving your body, you're still funny, you're still raising kids, you're still married.  You still write.  It's who you are.  It's not optional.

It's also important.  Last month was anti-bullying month, and hundreds of Authors Against Bullying wrote about their experiences of being bullied, and their ideas on how to stop it.  Lots of them are good, and all heartfelt, and one or more is I'm sure going to change the way we think about the problem. And yet I'll admit--because I'm not published, I'm not sure I'm an author, and when Chris was beaten so badly that his ACL detached from his bone, and his kneecap shifted, and his meniscus was torn, and his other knee was torn up, and his face black and blue--I still didn't have much to say about bullying.  It's so complicated when someone who's been victimized becomes aggressive and bullies others.  Chris bullies his siblings in our home with the way he berates them, and ridicules them and teases them and fights with them.  Chris bullies me at times.  He's an unhappy eighteen-year-old kid.

With the perspective of having seen how much he's suffered from the fight he lost, and the damage done when other boys piled up on one kid who didn't have a lot of physical strength, and called in other kids who videotaped the beating on their cellphones and then passed it around to other kids for a laugh, I can see now that the heart of it is that he's been teased and bullied at school his whole life, and this is how it shows.

And thanks to my daughter Lizzy's softball clinic coach I have some new ideas of what to do about it.  He took 30 minutes from a 90 minute softball camp to explain to girls that the best way to stop bullying is to not gossip and to have as strong and competent a body and brain and spirit as possible.  When you do something well, no matter what it is, people tend to respect you, and when you  are confident in your body it shows.  

And here's where we come back to perspective, and writing one last time (today).  As I've tried to get better at writing, I've had a lot of help from other writers who critique my work and tell me how to make it stronger, but also from those who take a kind of glee from shredding it.  To help keep critique groups positive and keep writers from oppressive depression, I recently got a "cheatsheet" from a frequent contest judge who gave these simple anti-gossiping THINK steps (in another kind of format)  as the best way to give feedback to a contest writer but don't they really apply to giving your opinion on anything?  Coaching?  Teaching?  Parenting?  Supervising?  Marriage?  And the best way to train our kids to be better about this is to be better ourselves.  So the next time you start a sentence about a person you know with "I think ..." put it through this filter.

You'll either say something good, or nothing at all.

For those philosophers out there, you can either way that it's true, or seems so from your perspective:

1 comment:

  1. The Thing questions are great for critiquing. Sometimes, a well intended suggestion might not be helpful if the writer doesn't share the same viewpoint.